So We’d Better Vote for a Woman
Do you want to vote for Elizabeth Warren or Amy Klobuchar, but are concerned that a woman may not be “electable”?
Allow me to point out two things:
(1) The primary is your chance to show who’s electable by voting for the person you want to elect.
(2) If it’s true that some Americans can’t imagine–and therefore wouldn’t vote for–a woman president, then a woman president is exactly what we need.
It reminds me of the old riddle:
A father and son are in a horrible car crash. The father is killed. The son is rushed to the hospital and prepped for emergency surgery, but just as the child is about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate—that boy is my son!” How is this possible?
Six years ago some BU psychology students asked that question of other psychology students, and only 14 percent got the answer right. More students guessed the child had two fathers than that the surgeon was . . . his mother. Obvious, right? But still somehow unimaginable. One commenter marveled, “I’m a woman surgeon and I didn’t even get it.”
If you can be a woman surgeon and yet still have trouble picturing a woman surgeon, obviously it will take a long, long, time and more than one Madame President before “presidential” is gender-neutral. It’s already been 100 years since women won the right to vote. But if we elect a woman now, maybe in another 100 years, a well-spoken 38-year-old straight-A student could think, “Why not me?” and a large percentage of Iowa Caucus voters will think, “Sure, why not her?”
No disrespect to Pete Buttigieg; I’m sure he’d make a fine president. But Amy Klobuchar is right: he’s gotten as far as he’s gotten because he’s not a woman, because we still think of leaders as men. Not consciously, perhaps, but in some deep recesses of our brains. (What’s that? Not your brain? Take this test).
But should we care what gender a politician is? Obama thinks so: he declared back in December, “I’m absolutely confident that, for two years, if every nation on earth was run by women, you would see a significant improvement across the board on just about everything . . . living standards and outcomes.”
Policies come first. But gender does matter, because it’s not just classic gender riddles that we need to solve.
Accepting the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1977, Rosalyn Yalow, one of the first (and still one of the few) women to be awarded a Nobel Prize in the sciences, said, “The world cannot afford the loss of the talents of half of its people if we are to solve the many problems that beset us.”
What if we could remove from half of our people–half of our potentially talented problem solvers–all barriers to political office, including our own expectations and assumptions, our notions of “electability”?
Unless we flip the Senate, the Democrat we elect in November will achieve just one thing: stopping Trump and the Republicans for which he stands from doing any more damage. I picture Eleven from Stranger Things holding off the forces of evil with just her brain and one shaking outstretched arm. She’s saving the world, yes, but she’s not also getting a reproductive rights law past Mitch McConnell.
But if we elect a woman, we can add another major accomplishment: expanding the country’s idea, expanding every American child’s idea, of who can lead.
Susan B. Anthony once said, “The day may be approaching when the whole world will recognize woman as the equal of man.” Maybe. But that day won’t get here if we just wait for it.
What we think is possible and what actually is possible create a terrible feedback loop, a circle not an arrow. That’s how the “electability” question stops progress.
To go forward, we have to expect a little more of our country. We have to imagine a different, slightly better reality and then work to make it so.
That’s our job as Americans with the right to vote. That’s our whole job.